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How far political parties go is issue

By Vision Reporter

Added 16th December 2001 03:00 AM

Some people talk of the need to lift the ban on political parties. But the Constitution guarantees them. Nobody banned them

Some people talk of the need to lift the ban on political parties. But the Constitution guarantees them. Nobody banned them

By Paul Waibale Senior MANY of the arguments currently advanced in the debate said by some to be about the future of the Movement and by others to be a preface to the re-birth of the so-called multipartyism are based on misleading premises. A few examples will suffice to illustrate this unsavoury state of affairs. I should state at the very outset that the identity of the various preponderate pugilists in the debating ring — Eriya Kategaya, Bidandi Ssali, Kakoza Mutale, James Wapakhabulo, Lt Kinobe, Capt Babu, David Wambi, Kintu Musoke, etc — has no influence on the style in which my commentary is moulded. Picking the issues at random, I begin with Bidandi Ssali’s contention that the Movement should be converted into a political party. In my submission, that proposition is untanable. The Movement is a political system, therefore it cannot be turned into a political party. Attempting to turn the Movement into a political party would be as futile as attempting to turn any other political system, such as mutipartyism (or majority dictatorship, as it often turns out to be) into a political party. If time runs out for the Movement as Uganda’s political system (I, for one, say ‘if’ not ‘when’) those who have been riding on the Movement’s bandwagon will have to abandon it on the roadside and choose between two options. They will have to either join one of the existing political parties or form a new party. Chances are that the latter would be more palatable. In fact such a move would be on all fours with what happened in l980 when Godfrey Binaisa’s Umbrella was ruptured in a conspiracy mooted by Paulo Muwanga and abbetted by Paul Ssemogerere. The first stage of the consipiracy was accomplished by Muwanga and army strongman Brig Oyite Ojok when they ousted Binaisa from the presidency and kept him under arrest in State House. In order to have a majority in the NCC to facilitate the tearing up of Binaisa’s Umbrella, Muwanga appointed several UPC die-hards as ministers thereby automatically making them members of the council. Within the twinkling of an eye, the NCC passed a resolution to the effect that the next elections would be conducted under the multiparty system. It was then that a group of NCC members who were disciples of the “Umbrella system”, spear-headed by Eriya Kategaya and Bidandi Ssali, joined hands to form the Uganda Patriotic Movement (UPM). Yoweri Museveni was elected the party’s president and Bidandi Ssali its secretary-general. As fate would have it, the rank and file of UPM filtered into the National Resistence Movement (NRM) in the course of the period of the bush war. The UPM which has been hibernating for l5 years is still alive and resuscating it is an option that Movementists might find attractive. The talk about “opening space” for the political parties is also based on defective semantics. As far as the constitution and the relevant acts of Parliament are concerned, there has always been space for the various political parties to operate. That is why it is possible for UPC to establish their Presidential Policy Comission which, apart from reciting the monotonous litany of Section 269, makes sponteneous trips to Zambia to consult Dr Apolo Milton Obote, who is entrenched virtually as the party’s Life President. On the other hand, rival DP factions have been engaged in a tug-of-war between those who think it is time for old-timer Paul Ssemogerere to pack up and those who still need him around for one reason or another. There is space for all those political activities and for more, so the question of opening space cannot arise. The issue that has to be debated is “widening space”, by how much, and at what rate. I have also heard some people talking about the need to “lift the ban on political parties.” It is common knowledge that the existence of political parties is acknowledged by the l995 constitution, and nobody has ever banned them. Needless to add that any plea to remove a ban that does not exist is superflous. What needs discussion is the widening of the scope for political party activities, and the Political Parties Bill recently tabled in Parliament offers a grand opportunity for that exercise. It is my contention that the important issues relating to the country’s political framework should not be submerged in the shallow waters of idle talk regarding the authority of NEC to descipline Bidandi and Kategaya or the lack of it. I submit that by raising those issues publicly those two gentlemen, and others who have jumped on to the bandwagon, have disarmed the multipartyists in one vital respect. They will have no right to claim at the end of the day that it was they who initiated the wind of change.

How far political parties go is issue

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